Mapping the Global Landscape of Heritage Centres

Over the winter break I had the opportunity to complete a research and strategy internship with the Oxford University Heritage Network (OUHN), a highly interdisciplinary organisation which brings together researchers and heritage professionals to respond to the most urgent questions facing heritage today. Supervised by Dr Oliver Cox, I worked as part of a team of four graduate researchers to map the global landscape of heritage centres, analysing and evaluating strategic ambitions, key research themes and approaches to critical heritage engagement. At the end of the internship, we were to present our findings to the OUHN core team and make recommendations which would inform the OUHN’s long-term strategic planning. 

Each intern was given a particular geographical region to focus their desk-based research on – I was responsible for UK/Europe and was fascinated by what I found. Questions of how the past is used in the present are being transformed on multiple fronts. Over the last decade in Europe (and the UK in particular) there has been a remarkable growth in the number of heritage centres based at universities. Their increasing recognition of the need to confront enduring colonial legacies, sustain anti-racist intervention and build inclusive futures within the heritage sector offer a welcome development. The growing participation of scientists alongside humanities scholars in such heritage centres is also leading to exciting avenues of research, with an emphasis on climate and digital heritage. However, the ever-present threat of creeping neoliberalism as well as overtly Euro-centric approaches to the concept of heritage threaten to stifle meaningful collaboration and research on an international level. Close listening and reciprocal exchange will be vital in shaping heritage discourse over the coming years.  

Whilst the ongoing disruption wrought by the pandemic is posing significant challenges for the heritage sector, it is also revealing a propensity for resilience and flexibility, not least in working practices – this remote internship being a testament to that. Through a combination of independent desk-based research and regular video-calls our team were able to pool together various findings in collaborative online databases and documents, as well as creating an interactive global map. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to discuss some of the key themes that emerged during the internship with the OUHN core team at the end of the week. We also submitted our strategic recommendations in a co-written research report. Oxford is uniquely placed to facilitate ethical and equitable collaborations with local, national and international partners as well as offer exciting opportunities for students and researchers working on heritage and I am very excited to see how the future of the OUHN unfolds.

I feel grateful to have had this chance to work alongside some brilliant fellow students as well as the OUHN team and am returning to my own academic research with renewed inspiration. If you’re reading this and thinking about applying for an internship at the OUHN or another heritage organisation, I cannot recommend it highly enough. I gained a valuable insight into how research and strategy inform heritage projects, acquired some new transferable skills and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. A piece of parting advice would be to make the most of flexible working hours – I made time during each day to get out on my bike or go for a walk and this was hugely beneficial in terms of preventing screen overload and maintaining productivity. 

James is currently completing an MSt in Literature and Arts. He draws on poetry, philosophy and visual arts to explore historical attitudes towards the British Empire.

TORCH Heritage Programme Homepage

Oxford University Heritage Network

An outdoor photograph depicting blue skies, clouds and tree silhouettes

Author photograph from an internship lunch break